kiss this guy etc.

From today’s Metropoltan Diary in the NYT, Paul Klenk writing about “A Misunderstanding at the Starbucks Counter”:

My ears did a double-take a couple of months ago when a customer at the Starbucks on Lexington and 40th ordered something called “a black guy.” The cashier repeated “black guy” to the barista, so I knew I had heard correctly. When I noticed others order this drink a day or two later, I became curious, and asked Frank, the cashier, “What’s a ‘black guy’?”

“It’s two shots,” he replied.

My jaw dropped. “You mean, like…?

“Yeah,” Frank laughed, miming two blows to his head. “Two shots!”

Klenk goes on:

I was mortified. A simple double espresso had taken on a racially offensive and violent nickname, and Starbucks was laughingly going along with it. It bothered me deeply, and for weeks I considered writing to the company. But what could I ask them to do?

I’m glad I didn’t write that letter. The other day, I ordered a venti dark roast with a shot of espresso. The cashier, in Starbucks’ typical passive-aggressive practice of rewording every order, called out to the barista: “A venti bold red eye.”

“What’s a ‘red eye’?” I inquired.

“A red eye is an extra shot,” she explained. “A black eye is two shots; a purple eye, three shots.”

Annals of mishearing.


7 Responses to “kiss this guy etc.”

  1. Sissy Says:

    A few years ago I was visiting Tucson, and every morning I would go for a walk which included getting a cup of coffee from a little one-man coffee stand. You could get a shot of espresso in your coffee, making it a ‘power coffee’. After a few days of asking whether I needed room for cream, I just asked for a black power coffee. “Ahh,” he laughed, “One Eldridge Cleaver, coming up!”

  2. Greg Lee Says:


    I wonder if the last consonant of “black” got doubled somehow. Then, with the first of two [k]s changing to glottal stop and the second [k] remaining unaspirated, it would sound like “black guy” for those, like me, who devoice syllable initial voiced stops.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Roughly my guess, though how can you tell?

      • Greg Lee Says:

        Doubling the consonant would be plausible if there is strong stress on black — someone would have to tell me whether Starbucks baristas talk that way, contrasting black with red, perhaps. Because if you do have stress there, you’d like to lengthen that syllable — it’s a rhythm thing, and it’s hard to prolong the vowel part, because digraph is a short vowel, which leaves the consonant offset to take up the extra time.

        Well, it’s just a guess.

  3. Annals of mishearing « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] sooner did I post on a word-division mishearing — black eye heard as black guy, here — than Jeff Runner posted on Facebook with a cartoon variant of a famous mishearing, from the […]

  4. Cow saws and mondegreens « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] to ride” [ticket to ride] and “ ’Scuse me while I kiss this guy.”) [on kiss this guy, see here and […]

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